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Originally written by Clarissa Harlow
Norm stood back to admire his work. Clarissa lay in her satin lined casket, dressed in her white silk gown. Her hands, folded at her waist held a single rose. Her dark hair was draped gracefully about her shoulders, framing her peaceful face. The room was only dimly lit except for an overhead lamp that had been positioned to illuminate the upper portion of the casket. Clarissa seemed to glow in its gentle, ethereal light. Soft music was playing, a Latin requiem chant. The flowers that surrounded the casket filled the room with their sweet fragrance. It was just as they had planned. God she looks lovely, he thought.


Clarissa had first come to him several months ago. She had told him about her illness, a viral infection that attacks the heart and lungs. The doctors had told her that the progress of the disease varied from a month or two up to a year, but, in 99 % of the cases, the illness was fatal. She had wanted to make the arrangements now, while she still could.

She had made numerous visits to his office in the succeeding weeks. Together, they had made all the arrangements for her funeral. She had ***********ed a casket, (white with pink satin lining), flowers, service music and readings. Together they had compiled the list of people to be informed. Even the wording of her obituary had been ready well in advance. Clarissa had arranged for several close friends to act as pallbearers, and arranged for their gowns. Together they had made a visit to a nearby cemetery and ***********ed a burial plot. The memorial she had chosen had been in place for two weeks, inscribed with her name, birth date and the epitaph she had ***********ed, only the date of death was blank. The mason had filled that in yesterday.

Norm was not sure when Clarissa had become more than just a client. Certainly she was an attractive young woman, and she had admitted a fascination with him and his profession almost from the start. However it had begun, it became real on her fourth visit. She had called in the morning:

"My dress is finished, I would like to come down and try it with the casket, and get your opinion. Would that be alright?"

He had readied the casket while she dressed, moving it to the visitation room, opening it and positioning the satin pads that covered the edges. He had just finished when Clarissa emerged from the dressing room. He had helped her *********** the dress from the catalog of burial gowns, but this the first time he had seen it for real. Quite simply, she looked gorgeous, and he told her so. Clarissa blushed and smiled. "Please," she said, "will you lift and carry me, and lay me in, like you will, when I'm.... " She paused, unable to complete the sentence.

In his mind, Norm completed the sentence "Like I will when you are dead" he thought. "Yes. I'll be happy to" he said, and smiled.

Gently, he picked her up and carried her across the room to the casket, "normally," he said as he walked, "I would dress you on a table in the prep room, then wheel you in, next to the casket, and lift you in from there. But this is a reasonable approximation."

Caring her this way imagining she was dead, filled him with desire he had not felt before. Her hip rested against the front of his pants and he wondered if she noticed the hard-on rapidly forming there.

Gently he laid her in the open casket, straightened her legs, and arranged her gown. Then he closed the bottom half of the lid. Moving to the top, he arranged Clarissa's long dark hair so it spread over the satin pillow, and down over her shoulders. Lastly he arranged her hands so they were folded at her stomach.

Clarissa lay still, as Norm had positioned her, for some time.

At last she spoke: "God, it feels beautiful! How do I look?"

"You look absolutely gorgeous" Norm responded

Clarissa opened her eyes and smiled.

"You know" she said "when I first learned I was going to die, I was terrified. Then, as we made the plans, I began to accept it as just something that must be. But today, after feeling what its like to lie here... I feel so wonderful.. I hope this doesn't sound odd .. I think I would be disappointed if I were cured. Does it sound crazy to say I can hardly wait for it to happen?"

"I don't know" responded Norm "I have never heard that from one of my clients before. But most of them are delivered to me and are not in a position to comment. (Clarissa laughed at this). Even those who do make "pre-need" arrangements don't plan as carefully as you. From you it doesn't really sound odd at all."

"May I confide something to you?" Norm continued

"Yes, of course" answered Clarissa

"I have always treated my clients with respect and decency, but largely out of concern for their family. A corpse was mostly just an object, neither desirable nor offensive, just there. But with you it's different. As I saw you lying there, laid out as if you were dead, I felt something I've never felt before. I felt ..."

Clarissa motioned him to stop "You don't need to say more" she whispered "just come here".

Norm took Clarissa's extended hand thinking she wanted help to get out of the casket. Instead she took his hand and placed it on her silk covered breast and drew him down into a long and sensuous kiss.

They made long and sensuous love that day, in the casket in which Clarissa lay. Clarissa lay as still and death-like as she could manage while Norm made love to her "dead" body.

It was the first of many meetings in which the two of them explored their newly discovered feelings of the sensuousness of death. Several times they made love in caskets. They made love in the walk-in refrigerator where the bodies were stored. They made love on the table of the body preparation room. On one occasion, Clarissa had Norm zip her naked body into a plastic body bag (the erotic pleasure as the oxygen was used up filled her with an ecstasy she had not expected). One night, they met at the cemetery and made love in an open grave, surrounded by the musty sweet smell of newly turned earth.

Then one day, about two weeks ago, she had come to his office, looking noticeably weaker.

"I just came from the doctor" she said quietly "Its progressing rapidly now. He said it's only likely to be a few weeks before I am total incapacitated, no more than two months before..."

Norm knew what she meant. Clarissa did not have to complete the sentence.

After a few moments she regained her composure. "I don't want to waste away in some hospital bed, stuck full of needles, so doped on pain killers that I can't think, kept alive only by the pumping of some machine. I am ready to go now. Will you help me make an end of it?"

Norm embraced Clarissa "Yes. If you are sure that's what you want"

"Yes, I'm sure" Clarissa responded softly, but with certainty. "You have shown me how beautiful death can be. I am no longer afraid of death. But dying in pain, little by little. That terrifies me. My only regret is that, we have planned so carefully, I'd hate to miss the final experience."

Norm thought for a minute "If you really want to, there might be a way. It is risky, but yes, with proper timing, I think it could be done.

He continued "As a consequence of my business I know most of the doctors at the hospital. Some are, shall we say, more diligent than others. If we plan for a Saturday night when one of the less diligent doctors is on-call at the Emergency Room, we might pull it off"

Norm explained further "I have a drug, it is a powerful muscle relaxant. I inject it to loosen joints were rigor mortis has started to set in. In the proper oral dose on a live patient it will slow your heart rate and breathing to an almost imperceptible rate. It will look like you suffered a heart attack. A careful doctor would not be fooled, but a less cautious one might be, especially on a busy night, and given the fact that they expect you to die soon of a heart condition. I think it will work."

It did work, just as they planned. An appropriate doctor was scheduled for the following Saturday. Clarissa invited a few friends over for dinner. After dinner, she went to the bathroom, and after a moments pause, she quickly drank the contents of the small vial that Norm had given her, then flushed the vial down the toilet. It did not take long for the drug to take effect. Only few minutes after she returned to her guests, she began to feel dizzy. There was no pain, she felt like everything was happening in slow motion, like she was floating, sinking slowly, then everything went black. Her last recollection was of her friends standing over her "Clarissa! Are you all right? God! Someone call an ambulance!"

Just as Norm predicted, the ER doctor passed her through with scarcely a glance. He looked at her chart "Harlow... yeah .. Dr. Winslow's cardio patient.. He told me she might be through here any time" He quickly checked the basic vital signs then paused a moment looking at her "what a shame.. Even dead she's beautiful" then he pulled the sheet over her head. The thought crossed his mind that he should look further, but he had two stabbings, and a stroke to deal with already, and auto crash victims on the way. A typical Saturday night. He signed the death certificate, "Dead on arrival .. Cardiac arrest resulting from advanced viral cardiomyopathy" Half an hour later Norm was loading her into the funeral home delivery van.

Clarissa woke up on the couch in Norm's office. "Congratulations, Sleeping Beauty, You are officially dead" Norm handed her the paper, open to the obituaries.

Groggily she sat up. There was her picture, and beneath, the words she and Norm had composed together. "Clarissa Anne Harlow, 24, died May 24, at her home after a brief illness..." There was the usual notes on her family, summary of her life and the date location and time of services then "while sadly missed by friends and family, we rejoice knowing she is at peace"

Clarissa stared at the obituary a long time, reading the words, over and over again. "I can't believe it! We are going to do it! I really am going to know what my own funeral is like! This is so wonderful! Norm .. You are so wonderful!" Clarissa embraced him with a long kiss.

"So what now?"

"Today you stay out of site. Tomorrow morning I will give you a mild sedative, that will help you through the visitation. You will be awake, but your breathing will slow and be hard to notice. After that your casket will be closed, but I have arranged for adequate ventilation. A cylinder of gas is concealed were you will be able to reach it when you are ready. It will cause unconsciousness in a few minutes and death in less than an hour. It will all be very peaceful"

"There is one more thing I would like to do. When will my grave be ready?"

"It should be ready this afternoon. They usually open the grave the day before the burial"

"I would like to go there, and see the place once more before I'm buried."

Late that afternoon they drove to the cemetery. It was located to the east on a hill overlooking the town. Clarissa's grave site was in the newer portion of the cemetery, located at the back, high on the hill. A large oak shaded the spot, but the view across the valley, to where the sun was setting in the west.

"Yes, I believe I could spend eternity here" Clarissa had said when they first found the spot.

As they drove up to the spot they could see the fresh mound of earth, and the planks that covered the hole.

Norm got out first, and, seeing that no one was around, he beckoned Clarissa to follow. She stood before the grave a long time, gazing at the stone that now bore both her date of birth, and her date of "death" (so what if it was three days too early. accommodations had to be made). With Norm's help she lifted aside the planks, and stood, staring down into the earth. She imagined it was tomorrow afternoon, she was lying within as the earth surrounded and covered her. The idea did not frighten her, rather it made feel, somehow safe, like entering a secure refuge and closing the door behind you. She smiled as she imagined shovel after shovel of earth filling her grave, sealing her perfect end.

Finally she broke the silence "will you be here, tomorrow, when I'm buried?"

"Yes, of course" Norm responded "Because of my responsibilities, I am often the last to leave. Tomorrow I would not have it otherwise."

"Will you be sure that they lower me gently, and that they place the dirt carefully?"

Norm took her hand as he nodded "Of course. I will instruct them personally. I will also be sure that the flowers are arranged as we discussed"

"Thank you" She looked into his eyes and smiled "I really knew you would, but it makes me feel better to hear it."

Clarissa continued, "I plan to wait until the end to use the gas, after I am laid here, once enough earth is placed that the air starts to go. It will be easier knowing you are close by."

"Norm there is one thing more I what you to know" Clarissa took his other hand and gazed into his eyes. "Do you remember the first day we made love.. When I was lying in my casket for the first time?"

"I will never forget"

"That was six weeks ago." Clarissa paused looking down, then she looked into Norms eyes again and continued" My period is now four weeks over due, I think I am pregnant."

Norm's eyes widened with amazement, but before he could speak Clarissa continued.

"Given my condition, the child would never survive. But, you are so special, it pleases me to know that part of you will lie with me forever"

Norm took Clarissa in a long embrace.

They stood beside Clarissa's grave for a long time, watching the sun set slowly behind the hills across the valley.

It was almost completely dark when they replaced the planks and drove back to the funeral home.

That night, Clarissa dressed in her burial gown and lay in her casket, and she and Norm made long and passionate love one final time just as they had the first time she had modeled the gown for him.

Norm stood back to admire his work. He had requested that he be allowed to prepare Clarissa as if she were already dead, and she willingly agreed. He had laid her on the preparation table and cut off her cloths, then gently washed her naked body. He dressed her in her burial gown, carefully smoothing the white, fluid silk over the graceful curves of her body.

Unlike most of his clients, there was no need to apply heavy make-up to make her look "natural". In fact, Norm thought she looked too good. They didn't want anyone to question wether she was really dead. He applied just enough make-up to make Clarissa look like a well prepared corpse.

When he was satisfied with his work, he rolled Clarissa into the visitation room, where her casket lay open and waiting. He lifted her legs into the casket first, then her head. He took great care as he straightened her gown and brushed and arranged her silky black hair.

"This is for eternity" he had whispered, "we want you to look your best"

Lastly, he had folded her hands on her stomach and, as she requested, placed a single long stemmed rose so that the pale pink bloom rested between her breasts.


He stood staring at her a long time. She looked quite convincingly dead, yet there was something special, almost magical about her appearance, look of almost divine peace.

"I wonder if this is what angels look like" he thought to himself.

At last the chiming of the clock broke his trance.

"10 o'clock.. Time to begin" he thought.

The first to arrive were the six friends Clarissa had asked to act as her pallbearers. The visitation was scheduled to last 2 hours, during that time Clarissa had requested that two of them stand by the casket, one at the head and one at the foot. Norm suggested that they take turns, as fatigue and the emotional strain required.

The first portion of the visitation was reserved for the immediate family and Clarissa's parents were the next to enter. They gazed long at their daughter. Her mother gently stroked Clarissa's face and silken hair. When they turned from the casket and approached Norm, their expression told him that she had passed the most difficult test.

Clarissa's mother clasped his hand in hers "She looks so peaceful. I don't know if it is her, or your careful work, nor do I wish to know. It is clear that she is happy and at peace. Thank you"

Her father continued "Clarissa told us how your care and concern helped her deal with this.. (He nodded toward the casket ) inevitable end. It is clear that she entrusted herself to capable hands. It is pleasure to meet you at last"

Norm graciously thanked them.

So it went for the next two hours. First the immediate family then the many friends and more distant relatives, filed slowly past the casket in which Clarissa lay. Many commented on how beautiful and peaceful she looked, some wept softly.

Through it all, Clarissa lay still, as if peacefully asleep. Yet she heard each whispered prayer, felt the gentle caress of those who felt the need to stoke her face, or touch, for a moment, her "lifeless" hands.

It seemed forever until the last mourner had passed, and only the pallbearers remained. It was almost time to leave for the church.

Norm asked them to step out while he made the final preparations.

When they had left the room, Norm stepped up to the casket and whispered, "It's over"

Clarissa opened her eyes.

"Is it time to go?"

"Yes, almost"

"Then this is good bye, at last. Its hard to image that I will be dead in a couple hours, Yet I know its for the best, and I am as ready as anyone can be, thanks to you".

Clarissa stretched briefly then resumed her burial pose. "Lets get on with it, before I change my mind"

Norm removed the extra padding from the casket edges, then bent over and gently kissed Clarissa "good bye my love" he whispered. He straightened, and reluctantly closed the casket lid.

She heard Norm call in her friends. Felt the casket move as it was rolled out of the room, down the hall. There was a slight lurch as she was lifted, and slid into the back of the waiting hearse. There was a soft rumble and gentle rocking as the hearse drove the twenty minutes to the church. Then the process repeated in reverse.

The organ was playing a quiet requiem as she felt herself being rolled down the aisle. The smell of flowers mingled with the bittersweet fragrance of incense.

The priest met the pallbearers at the head of the aisle:

"I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe im me, even if they die, shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die"

"Come to Clarissa's aid O Saints of God. Hasten to meet her, angels of the Lord; taking up her soul and presenting it in the site of the Most High. May she be received by Christ, who has called her. May the angels bring her to the bosom of Abraham, taking up her soul, and presenting it in the site of the Most High."

Then the congregation responded:

"Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon her. Presenting her soul in the sight of the Most High"

Clarissa had requested the traditional requiem mass, and Norm had arranged it for her. She said that she loved the traditional service because, in a world in constant change, it reminded her that some things are eternal. She had confided to Norm that she had, on occasion, gone to the funerals of perfect strangers just because she loved the service.

Norm watched from the rear of the church, hoping that Clarissa was happy.

Clarissa lay in darkness, listening to the chants, prayers, and hymns. It was so beautiful, especially hearing her name being used, it brought her close to tears.

The service lasted about an hour but Clarissa wished it would go on forever. Before she knew it the last hymn, her favorite, was being sung:

"Praise God this hour of sorrow

Shall bring a greater morrow

I go to paradise.

My mother and my father

as round my grave you gather

lay me to rest with song of praise."

She loved the song so much she had requested that the first verse be inscribed on the stone making her grave as her epitaph.

"I was on earth your treasure

Now I know naught but pleasure

Ye weep in bitter woe

Believe what ere betideth

God's Love in all abideth

and soon your tears shall cease to flow."

As the second verse began the pallbearers took there places beside the casket and began to roll Clarissa slowly back up the aisle.

"When ye shall see me nearing

The throne of God appearing

Adorned and crowned a bride

My palms of vic-try swinging

Midst Hallelujahs ringing

In beauteous grace the Lamb beside."

The hymn continued for two more verses but Clarissa could no longer hear the words as the she was carried out of the church, and lifted into the waiting hearse, for this, the final journey. "Just a few more minutes", she thought. Gently she fingered the button that would release the fatal gas. "I hope this works as well as Norm told me it would"

It took fifteen minutes for everyone to file from the church and get to their cars for the procession to the cemetery. To Clarissa, waiting in silent darkness it seemed like forever until the hearse finally began to move. Norm normally escorted the family in one of the limousines, but this time he drove the hearse personally. It was only a few miles to the cemetery, but because of the slow pace of the procession, the trip took nearly an hour. Clarissa was relieved when she at last heard the motor stop and the door open.

She heard Norm instruct the pallbearers: "Gently now, this is someone very special"

It made her feel good to know that he was close by.

She felt the gentle rocking as her casket was carried to her grave site, then slowly lowered onto the frame that would hold her above the open grave during the brief burial service.

The priest began with the blessing of the grave:

O God, by whose mercy rest is given to the souls of the faithful, in your kindness bless this grave. ...

Now, suddenly the doubts began to creep into Clarissa's mind, the fear of dying she had so far kept at bay..

Entrust it to the care of your holy angles, and set free from all the chains of sin the soul of your handmaid, Clarissa, whose body we bury here...

"This can't be happening!.. I'll wake up and find it was a dream! I'm to young, I'm not going to die, I'm not!...

So that with all your saints she may rejoice in you forever. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

She began to imagine the life she would have. A home on the shore of a tranquil lake, the rising morning mist.

Lord have Mercy

Christ Have Mercy

Lord have mercy

Our Father who art in heaven...

She and Norm were walking hand in hand through a field of flowers...

Rescue her soul O, Lord

May She rest in peace

O Lord, hear my prayer

And let my cry come to you

The Lord be with you

and with your spirit

Norm nodded to the pallbearers, while holding back his own tears.

Clarissa felt herself being lowered slowly into the earth.

O Lord, we emplore you to grant this mercy to your handmaid, Clarissa, so that, as her true faith united her with the throng of faithful on earth, your mercies may unite her with the company of the choirs of angels in heaven. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

The casket stopped, all around her Clarissa smelled the musty sweet fragrance of earth.

Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord

And let light perpetual shine upon her

May she rest in peace


May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in piece.

"Oh, God Please, No! Norm.. Help Me!


There was a brief silence then the first shovel of earth landed on the casket lid with a heavy rattle and thud.

Suddenly it all seemed right again. She felt the cool smooth silk of her gown, and the satin walls around her, she remembered lying in the funeral home, like a sleeping princess, surrounded by beautiful flowers. She thought of the awful fate that awaited her, lying like a rotting vegetable, in a sterile room full of machines. She pictured Norm, standing above, at the edge of her grave, watching each guest drop their shovel full of earth, then turn and depart. She could almost hear him thinking, "I'm here my love"

The sound of the earth filling her grave was growing more and more muffled.

In her mind, she pictured her grave, covered with flowers, shaded by the great oak.

The air was becoming heavy, she could feel her heart starting to increase its rhythm to keep up with the failing oxygen supply. She knew, in her condition, that the strain would probably cause a heart attack soon. It was time to go.

"Farewell my love" she whispered. And pressed the button.

Norm stood alone by the grave. After the last guests had left, he had remained. Usually the cemetery workers finished filling the grave, but when they had arrived, he had given them a few dollars and sent them to a local bar.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to finish here myself." he had told them.

And so he had. Shovel full by shovel full he had filled Clarissa's grave. It was hard, not just because of the physical labor, but because, as Clarissa had said, something of himself was lying there. He felt like each shovel of dirt was landing on his own grave.

At last it was done, the grave was filled and the flowers were placed to form a fragrant blanket over the brown scar. Yet still he remained, staring at mound of earth and flowers and the black stone that bore Clarissa's name.

There was a hissing sound and a faint, sweet, fragrance filled the casket. Clarissa felt a slight numbness in her forehead, then nothing, just a vague sense of drifting into a black, empty void.

This lasted ... how long? She no longer had any awareness of time. But then there was a change, first it was just a grayness in the black void, but the grayness gave way to light that grew in intensity to a brilliant white. The light seemed to be all around her but she felt she was being drawn, floating upward, toward its source.

She turned and saw she was high above a green hill, full of stones in neat regular rows. She floated down (or "zoomed in" seemed a better way to describe it, since up and down really seemed to have no meaning, only toward the light and away from it) until she walked among the stones of the cemetery. She had never noticed before how much it seemed like a beautiful garden.

People stood, or sat, near many of the stones, mostly older men and women, but there were also some younger adults, and more then a few children. A young woman approached her, smiling.

"Hi, I'm Karen. You must be Clarissa. Welcome! We saw you being brought in a while ago"

Karen was dressed as a bride, in a gown of ivory satin and lace. "Do you like it? I died in a car accident two days before my wedding, so they dressed me in this. Your dress is gorgeous by the way, I bet you were a knock-out at your wake"

"Are all these people dead?" asked Clarissa

"Well" responded Karen "As I'm sure you've noticed, that is a relative term. All of us have been buried here if that is what you mean. But you will find that most of us are more alive than we ever were before. We can come here so long as we are remembered, but even if they do forget us, there are lots of other places to go, all equally nice. You have an eternity to explore them all!"

Karen was right, Clarissa did feel more alive, more aware of every beautiful site, sound and smell. She wandered slowly up the hill, greeting others as she went, until at last she approached the fresh mound of earth covered with flowers. Norm still stood there his head bowed.

"They can't see or hear us" Karen had said, referring to those who had not yet died, "although sometimes they seem to sense we are around."

Clarissa walked up beside Norm and gently kissed his cheek. Then whispered in his ear "Its okay now, I'm very happy. Thank you"

Was it just a gentle breeze he felt? Yet somehow the caress on his cheek seemed out of place. But with it the sadness he felt suddenly lifted, and he gazed up into sky through the branches of the tree that shaded the grave. He had forgotten what a beautiful day it was. Somehow he felt Clarissa's presence and knew that what ever had happened, she was now very, very happy.

As he watched the leaves dance in the gentle spring breeze, he thought he saw.. What.. A subtle glow? A faint shimmer where there should have been shadow? Was that just the leaves rustling? It sounded so like the whisper of silk. Then it was gone.

Clarissa kissed Norm's face once again then turned and floated through the branches toward the light, calling as she went, "Remember me and I will be back my love"

Norm smiled and walked slowly back to the hearse.
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